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Biden, as president and patriarch, faces his son’s trial

As jury selection begins Monday for United States v. Robert Hunter BidenThis is another unprecedented moment in a period that has seen no shortage of them: the first time a president’s child has faced a felony trial.

Coming just four days after New York jurors convicted former President Donald Trump of falsifying records to hide money payments, Hunter Biden’s trial for allegedly lying on a procurement form weaponry further solidifies the courtroom as a central player in an unorthodox and chaotic presidential election. .

President Biden has lost two other children, and the legal ordeal his surviving son faces will also be an emotional experience, his longtime associates say, testing his ability to maintain professional and political distance. Facing a situation unlike any other president before him, Biden — who, at 81, is the patriarch of a large and growing family — will have to navigate the trial as president, candidate and father.

The cases against Trump and Hunter Biden are markedly different, in part because one of the defendants is running for president and the other is a private citizen. But both could affect the 2024 election, as Republicans seek to tie Biden to his son’s legal troubles, and how the president handles them will be closely scrutinized by voters given his performance as president and as patriarch.

“We live in a time when Americans largely view the courtroom as politics by other means,” said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “This is the main argument put forward by Donald Trump, obviously successfully, to diminish the impact of his multiple felony convictions. Ironically, this same argument helps protect President Biden from harm if his son’s trial goes poorly.”

In a sign of how the two cases could influence each other, Biden on Friday chastised Trump for repeatedly complaining that his case had been rigged, saying: “It’s reckless, it’s dangerous and it’s irresponsible to say it was rigged just because they don’t. like the verdict. Such a comment could make it harder for Biden to criticize his son’s trial if he is unhappy with the outcome.

Just as the defendants in the two cases are very different, so are the charges.

In Trump’s case, prosecutors said he used illegal means to prevent public exposure of an affair that could have harmed his political prospects. Hunter, in turn, is accused of falsely stating that he was not using illegal drugs when he filled out a form to purchase a gun in 2018 – even though he was in the grip of a deep drug addiction, as recounted in his memoirs.

The rapid succession of two landmark cases just five months before the election promises to unpredictably shape the contours of what is expected to be a close presidential race. Hunter Biden will face another criminal trial in September, on tax evasion charges, while Trump will face three more, although they could take place after the election.

Biden has largely taken a hands-off approach to the courthouse machinations, seeking to show that he does not interfere with the administration of justice. And his campaign has tried to present a clear distinction between Trump’s struggles with the law and Biden’s work to meet the expectations of the American people.

But those efforts could be complicated if Hunter Biden’s trial resurfaces a troubled chapter in the family’s history. Prosecutors said they were prepared to call Hunter’s ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, as well as Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter’s brother Beau, with whom Hunter had a romantic relationship.

Any drug-and-love story that emerges could distract the public from the sordid facts revealed in Trump’s trial, blurring the contrast the president is seeking, said Julian Zelizer, who teaches political history at the Princeton University.

“In terms of the broader impact, the fact that the son has legal problems – given that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of his father – is less relevant than the fact that it distracts attention to Trump’s legal problems and tarnishes Biden’s image,” Zelizer said. . “If the trial had the effect of blurring the contrast between integrity and wrongdoing, then the impact of the case would be extremely significant. »

For months, congressional Republicans pursued Hunter Biden aggressively, focusing primarily on his foreign business dealings and trying to tie them to his father, efforts that have largely stalled. However, GOP leaders continue to assert that the Biden family is ethically troubled, and the specter of the president’s son facing two criminal trials could play into those efforts.

Trump and his allies complain of a “two-tiered” justice system, claiming without evidence that the president has used his power to pursue his enemies and protect his son, who they say should face harsher charges.

“Just so you understand, this is all done by Biden and his people,” Trump said Friday. “This is done by Washington.” Trump’s guilty verdict came in a case brought by New York state prosecutors and not Biden’s Justice Department.

Biden blasted those comments Friday, saying the jury system is a foundation of American democracy and should not be portrayed as fundamentally corrupt. “The justice system must be respected and we must never allow anyone to tear it down,” he said.

Biden’s remarks come as his son’s lawyers have argued that prosecutors charging Hunter were influenced by political pressure from Republicans. If Biden were not president, they said, prosecutors would not pursue charges as aggressively, noting that the two sides were close to reaching a plea deal last year, but this one s collapsed after Republicans attacked him. (The deal collapsed under questioning from the judge, when prosecutors and defense attorneys could not agree on whether it prevented the Justice Department from bringing further accusations against Hunter Biden in the future.)

Against this backdrop, White House officials said they do not plan to react in real time to developments in the Hunter Biden case, viewing the matter as a personal matter that does not directly involve the president. The White House will instead seek to showcase Biden’s political acumen on the world stage during his presidential trips to France and Italy.

There will be no White House situation room operation to deal with this matter, for example, or to respond to Republican attacks. After the House GOP spent months on an impeachment inquiry focused on Hunter Biden and family finances, White House officials said they did not expect the trial to reveal anything or again.

Attorneys for Hunter Biden did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, the trial could take a heavy emotional toll on a president who speaks almost daily to his children and grandchildren, his associates say. Before running for president, he agonized over the decision, in part because of the effect a campaign might have on his family, which had endured years of turmoil marked by Hunter Biden’s struggles against the addiction following Beau’s death in 2015, according to those close to him. the Bidens.

And Biden clearly finds himself in a unique position as the head of an administration pursuing his own son. Although the president has pledged to let the legal process play out, he could theoretically end it abruptly through a pardon, although White House officials say Biden is not considering such a move.

When asked twice last year if there was any possibility the president would pardon his son, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded emphatically “no.”

The president is expected to spend Monday in Wilmington, Del., where he resides and where the trial will take place. On Tuesday evening, Biden will travel to France for a five-day trip that will include a speech marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Next week, Biden will travel to Italy for a Group of Seven summit.

Hunter Biden’s case is expected to take about two weeks, so it could overlap with both presidential trips, taking Biden several time zones away from his son’s ordeal.

The president has kept his son especially close in recent days, bringing him to a state dinner at the White House and in Delaware, where the Biden family gathered to mark the ninth anniversary of Beau Biden’s death. The father and son were spotted riding bikes together Saturday in Rehoboth Beach.

“The president and first lady love their son,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last week. “They are proud of how their son was able to get back on his feet and continue his progress, and they will continue to support him.” »

Few analysts are willing to predict the political impact of Hunter Biden’s — or Trump’s — legal troubles on the 2024 election.

Polls suggest Trump’s guilty verdict could have a marginal impact on voters who are hesitant to elect a felon. Because Hunter Biden’s legal problems are far removed from his father’s, it’s unclear whether his trial, or possible conviction, would sway many voters, strategists say.

While it is unprecedented for a president’s child to face a federal trial, there is a long history of presidential family members finding themselves in legal trouble, including presidential brothers Billy Carter, Roger Clinton and Neil Bush .

And after decades of top prosecutors targeting everything from President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater scandal to the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia, the public has become accustomed to sensitive investigations affecting the presidency, Riley said , the presidential historian.

“In the post-Watergate era, investigations by independent lawyers or the like became a staple of American politics, and in all cases the defense of choice for those under investigation was ‘ It’s just partisan politics,’” Riley said. “Having heard this over time from Republican and Democratic presidents, Americans obviously find this not only plausible, but familiar.”


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